Who is Chris McElvain? Breaking down the return from the Santiago Espinal trade

Mar 25, 2023; Dunedin, Florida, USA;  A detail view of Toronto Blue Jays hat and glove against the
Mar 25, 2023; Dunedin, Florida, USA; A detail view of Toronto Blue Jays hat and glove against the / Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, the Blue Jays announced that they have traded infielder Santiago Espinal to the Cincinnati Reds for minor league pitcher Chris McElvain. McElvain, 23, was an 8th round pick in the 2022 draft. He made his professional debut in the 2023 season, finishing with a 3.75 ERA across 23 appearances (19 as a starter) at Single-A and High-A.

McElvain is a right-handed starter. The Blue Jays will likely continue to work him in a starting role in 2024. His arsenal is led by a fastball that is typically around 93 MPH. The pitch features above average ride, on 236 pitches at Single-A it averaged 17.6 inches of induced vertical break. He also throws it from a low-ish vertical approach angle. These characteristics helped it to be an average to above average pitch for him despite pedestrian velocity.

McElvain's main secondary weapon is a low-80s slider. The velocity is a bit light for a slider but he makes up for it with the sharp break of the pitch. In TJStats' Stuff+ model, which gives each a pitch an individual grade, it graded out as an average (100) offering for an MLB pitcher. Additionally, FanGraphs gave the pitch a future 60 grade, which indicates a potential plus offering.

McElvain mixes in a few other pitches. His mid-80s changeup stands out for it's 50% whiff rate at Single-A, though it's worth noting that this came on just a 24 pitch sample. Regardless, the pitch is worth monitoring in 2024. He also throws a sinker fastball variant and a curveball. Neither of these were particularly good in his small Single-A Statcast sample.

He was regarded as an impressive strike-thrower as a draft prospect but was only about average in that department across Single-A and High-A. The righty struggled at High-A in particular, giving up too many walks and home runs while not striking out many batters. According to Blue Jays transaction logs, he'll start 2024 back at High-A with the Blue Jays.

When looking at McElvain, the Blue Jays likely see a fastball with good characteristics, a promising slider, and perhaps an intriguing changeup. They've targeted slider-heavy pitchers a lot recently and it wouldn't be a surprise if they thought they could get more fastball velocity out of McElvain. Realistically, he'll need to show some improvement in his strikeout stuff or a large bump in command/control if he's going to be a long-term starter. Santiago Espinal did not carry much value so getting a healthy starting pitcher back is a win to begin with.